Sunday, April 2, 2017

Blues take over third in division with 4-1 win over Predators

Allen sharp again, Perron gets goal, two assists in victory

ST. LOUIS -- After the shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Friday, the Blues quickly turned the page after clinching a playoff berth.

They quickly turned the page because they knew their next encounter would be crucial.

Tied with the Nashville Predators for third place in the Central Division, the difference between finishing third and in the wild card is the difference of playing either Minnesota or Chicago in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Alexander STeen (20) tries to get away from Predators
defenseman Ryan Ellis during play Sunday at Scottrade Center.

The Blues played as if they want to go to the Twin Cities rather than the Windy City after Jake Allen turned in another stellar performance with 35 saves, and David Perron had a goal and two assists in the Blues' 4-1 victory over the Predators on Sunday afternoon in the appetizer at Scottrade Center, ahead of the Cardinals' season-opener against the Chicago Cubs down the street at Busch Stadium.

The Blues (43-28-7) increased their lead over the Predators (40-28-11) by two points with a game in hand and the tie-breaker advantage with the Predators based on 42 regulation/overtime wins to the Predators' 38.

The Blues essentially need four of a possible eight points in their remaining four games to clinch third in the Central. A loss wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world for the Blues, but this scenario sure makes the task much easier.

"It was a big game; this has been on our schedule for a while," Allen said. "We knew it was going to come down to between us and Nashville there for the race in the standings. We were ready, we played well."

The Blues got second-period goals from Alexander Steen and Perron to break a 1-1 tie, and Vladimir Tarasenko and Joel Edmundson also scored for St. Louis, which was outshot 36-25 in the game.

Allen improved to 9-1-2 in his past 12 starts, allowing two or fewer goals in 10 of 12.

"Yeah, he's been outstanding," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of Allen. "Every single night he's giving us a chance to win -- him and 'Hutts' (Carter Hutton) -- and that's what you really want from the goalie. Making every single save that he needs to make, it's pretty impressive the way he's been able to bounce back and playing a lot too, which is a good sign that he's able to take those big minutes."

The Blues improved to 5-0-1 in its past six games at home and 12-1-2 overall the past 15 games, outscoring the opposition 46-21.

"It was a real strong effort," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "You could tell right from the beginning that the emotion and the intensity was there. We didn't have to say a lot as a staff. The guys, they were clearly ready for this one.

"We didn't have to say a lot as a staff. The guys, they were clearly ready for this one." 

Ryan Johansen scored for the Predators and Juuse Saros made 21 saves. 

Nashville, which has three games remaining, went 2-3-0 playing five games in seven days.

The Blues were tested right off the bat having to kill a 5-on-3 Nashville power play for 1:04 after Edmundson was called for cross checking and then the Blues' customary too-many-men penalty, and 19 seconds after the second penalty expired, Tarasenko gave the Blues a 1-0 lead at 5 minutes, 22 seconds of the first when his shot from the bottom of the left circle beat Saros off the near post and up into the roof of the net.

It was a game that had plenty of flare from both teams with the magnitude being high, but that apparently didn't register with referee Garrett Rank, who made an egregious call on Perron as Edmundson was called for his second penalty of the period, a trip.

Perron was near Nashville's Viktor Ardivsson after the whistle stopped play, and gave Ardivsson the slightest of taps on his side with his stick. Arvidsson went down as if Perron two-handed him with his stick, and Rank fell for it, and put the Blues down two men for a full two minutes, drawing the ire of t he Blues, Yeo and the 19,262 in attendance.

"I don't know, I must have had a baseball bat or something," Perron said laughing. "I'm getting ready to play later on (for the Cardinals). 

"I don't know, I think you know our opinion on this call. I don't want to talk about it too much. I'm just glad I was able to respond. I think there were a lot of emotions in that game and I'm happy after I was able to control and put in the game instead of getting into the refs' head or something like that. It's a big game, but it's nice for an afternoon game and the first baseball game. We'll be watching that one, too."

Yeo added with a grin: "Yeah, that was a good one; I liked that. I'm going to leave it at that." 

The Predators scored on that 5-on-3, with Johansen scoring 11:22 to tie the game at 1-1 after Allen made a couple good saves and a loose puck lay at his right side.

But all things considered, to get out of that mess of penalties and 2:28 total of 5-on-3 time was pretty good.

"We got out of that first 10 crazy minutes there with not much harm done and that carried some momentum for us," Allen said. "It's a rarity at the start of the game, but that's the way it goes. We responded well and honestly, I think we've got to be pretty happy with only giving up one there."

"I don't know if I wanted to watch quite honestly," Perron said. "I was pretty nervous. ... There's like 20, 30 seconds left on my penalty and 'Eddy' blocks a shot. Maybe he doesn't block it and it goes in the net and it's 2-1 for them now. I was real happy. I went over to him and to say thank you. We had a lot of great performances by a lot of guys tonight."

The Blues' 5-on-5 game was strong, and they didn't allow many high-quality Nashville scoring chances, a team that Yeo said thrives off turnovers and plays with pace.

"We really jammed up the middle," Pietrangelo said. "They like to feed off turnovers and try and play with some speed through the middle. We didn't do that against Colorado but tonight I thought we did a really good job, especially as 'D' taking away that speed and gaping up and making life difficult on them."

"We felt as long as we kept the game 5-on-5, we felt we were playing really well," Yeo said. "To get through that (penalty sequence), it's not easy. Two 5-on-3's in a period. We've got to make sure we're not putting ourselves in those situations, but penalty kill did a great job, and a big kill in the third period, too."

Once the second period started, the Blues turned it up as Steen put them ahead 2-1 55 seconds into the second after a Perron pass from behind the net off Saros' shaft and out of the reach of Colton Sissons.

Perron made it 3-1 at 6:47 after Pietrangelo's good keep-in at the blue line before Perron, who initially fought off Predators defenseman P.K. Subban, curled around Subban before finding the corner with a wrist shot from the right circle.

"Real strong game tonight," Yeo said of Perron. "His first shift, puck comes around, 50-50 battle and he hands down won that battle and I had a good sense he was going to be ready to go today."

The Blues bend at the start of the third, but didn't break, and Edmundson put the game out of reach for all intents and purposes by making it 4-1 at 8:11 on a near end-to-end rush after Kevin Fiala lost control of the puck at the offensive zone blue line.

Edmundson streaked down the right on a 2-on-1 with Ivan Barbashev, shot it and collected his own rebound.

"To see 'Eddy' get rewarded like that, I think you could see everybody on the bench was jazzed up for him," said Steen, who was called for illegal check to the head on Anthony Bitetto 5:33 into the third period when replays showed a perfect reverse check by, you guess it, Rank.

But it didn't matter, as the Blues' penalty kill was 5-for-6 in the game.

And then there's Allen, who made a number of solid saves, including one on Craig Smith late in the second to keep the game 3-1, and another on Colin Wilson on a breakaway with under a minute left in the second after Colton Parayko fell down with the puck at the offensive zone blue line.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing David Perron (left) makes a pass to set up a Alexander
Steen goal in the second period of the Blues' 4-1 win over Nashville.

"Both of our goalies have been playing so well for us," Steen said. "It's giving us a lot of confidence and it's a sense of calm defensively."

The Blues were geared up for the game, and it showed.

"This team rises to the occasion this year," Pietrangelo said. "We've done it in big games, games that have mattered. I wasn't surprised by the effort. I thought emotionally we were really invested. We did a really good job of getting into the game. These afternoon games are always a little bit challenging, but it didn't really faze us."

* NOTES -- Defenseman Petteri Lindbohm, recalled under emergency conditions on Saturday, replaced the injured Robert Bortuzzo (upper body) in the lineup and played alongside Jordan Schmaltz. 

Also, left wing Dmitrij Jaskin played for the first time in 10 games and replaced Nail Yakupov. 

Kenny Agostino, also recalled under emergency conditions Saturday, was not needed and reassigned back to the Wolves with Barbashev, who blocked a shot late in the loss to Colorado, available to play. 

Allen won his 31st game, the first Blues goalie since Chris Osgood (2003-04) to accomplish that feat, and Steen's goal put him into sole possession of ninth place on the all-time franchise list with his 162nd, passing Jorgen Pettersson.

The Blues improved to 5-0-1 wearing the Winter Classic uniforms.

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